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Twenty-three Crook County High School students participate along with many others nationwide

JASON CHANEY - A group of 23 students stood silently outside the Crook County High School front doors, participating in a nationwide school walkout planned for 10 a.m. Wednesday. The students stood outside for 17 minutes to honor the 17 slain in the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Twenty-three students stood silent and still.

For exactly 17 minutes they gathered under the American flag facing the front doors of Crook County High School, honoring the memory of 17 students and staff whose lives were taken in a school shooting last month.

"A lot of us kids got together, and I feel like all of us believe that no kid should feel unsafe at school or have the rest of their life taken away," said CCHS senior Jenna McWilliams, who held a sign during the demonstration that read "Protect kids, not guns."

The local students were participating in a coordinated walkout planned across more than 2,500 schools nationally. March 14 marked one month since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 14 students and three staff members. Many others were wounded in the shooting.

Women's March Youth Empower called on students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies to take part in a 17-minute walkout in honor of the 17 lives taken.

The 10 a.m. walkout across every time zone on March 14 is meant to protest "Congress' inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers" in response to the gun violence plaguing schools and neighborhoods.

In demanding Congress pass legislation to protect students, they point out that many of those high school students walking out will vote this November, and many others will cast their ballots in 2020.

Although the timing of the walkout likely meant some students throughout the country would leave their seats in the middle of class, Crook County students benefitted from the fact that 10 a.m. coincided with a connections period where students are free to walk around the school and participate in different activities of their choosing.

But even though the walkout didn't disrupt any traditional class sessions, it did draw attention from other students who watched out windows as the protest unfolded. And not all of that attention was positive.

Some students, talking amongst themselves near the open windows, wondered aloud whether the protest would accomplish anything, while others answered, saying it wouldn't. One student opened a window, popped his head out and yelled, "You're not taking my guns!" before closing the window.

McWilliams acknowledged that the views held by the 23 Crook County High School students who participated in the walkout are in the minority in Prineville.

"We are all taught to stand up for what we believe in," McWilliams said to her peers after the protest, "so I think it is really inspiring to see all of you guys here fighting for what you believe in when we go in that school and people will yell at us."

Drew Finley, a CCHS junior, went on to clarify that the protest wasn't against guns, but rather against the violence that people with the weapons can inflict.

"I feel it is important for people to have their Second Amendment rights," she said, "but when 17- or 18-year-olds can go and buy AR-15s and go into schools and kill kids, there is a problem with that, and we need to change it."

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